Welcome to Fragrance Friday, where each week we’ll be keeping you abreast of the newest and most iconic releases in the dynamic world of men’s fragrances. Born out of the desire to showcase one of the most overlooked, yet versatile, elements of any discerning man’s style this weekly column will help you finesse your own signature scent.
Last week we were all about the zesty heart of Penhaligon’s Racquets, with the legendary UK perfume house reviving and refining a classic to offer a new summer essential. The interplay of lemon on the top and leatherwood on the base built a fascinating interpretation of tennis games in the European summer, expressed so elegantly by Fabrice Pellegrin. However, if you’re looking for something a bit more leathery and woody, this very citrus-forward fragrance may not be for you.
If that’s the case, the latest release that should be grabbing your attention is the incredibly sensual P Frapin & Cie Checkmate, fresh from the stalwart Frapin family who are well-regarded for their iconic Cognac distillery based in their original Fontpinot Castle.
If you’re already familiar with the house of Frapin’s tireless work in the Grande Champagne region of France, you should know that their approach to perfumery stands as unique and greatly admired in the industry. With each release, they attempt to capture, translate, and express different layers of life in or around the castle’s immaculate 300-hectare grounds, whether that means aspects of the production and distillation of Cognac, or simply walking around the vineyard and being immersed in the many distinctive aromas that spring to life.
Frapin Checkmate very clearly narrows in on the story of Henri Frapin and his supposed leisure time spent in the garden opposite the noble family’s imposing property, bonding with his son over a game of chess in the springtime. As illustrated by the house, the scene darts from serving cardamom tea to watching citrus fruits ripen in terracotta pots, building a very specific, detailed picture used by the family’s creative director, David Frossard, and frequent collaborator, perfumer Anne-Sophie Behaghel to put together this very effective bill.
While Checkmate is considerably forward when it comes to those rugged woody and leathery notes, the opening is fresh and spicy, setting a gentle, airy and sweet tone that arguably defines the entire show by sticking around to restrain and blend with those heavier base notes. That would be Italian bergamot, Italian lemon, and Indian cardamom, building an effervescent top that lingers more than you’d expect seeing as the heart has the very powerful notes of leather, heliotrope, and iris.
Starting off sweet with a designer perfume that builds its identity around wood and leather turns out to be a smart choice from Behaghel, who for years has worked closely with Frossard and is primarily known as one of the most reliable members of Flair – a collective of Parisian perfumers who have been banging out some rather interesting and innovative fragrances over the past few years. Frossard and Behaghel did great, spicy work together on Frapin R.K in 2019 and it feels like the opening of Checkmate is very much a nod to that.
A lot of leather-forward fragrances these days lack personality and fall victim to the uninspiring sameness that blunts these kinds of trends. This dynamic duo has ensured Checkmate would be a clear exception, seamlessly blending the top’s sweetness with the kind of old-world elegance built up by the base – suede, Virginia cedar, Cashmere wood, and amber wood. That’s pure, unadulterated classicism right there heightened and complemented primarily by the cardamom which has been worked in such a way that it ebbs and flows well into the latter stages of the scent, hanging around just long enough to add a sense of dynamism to the masculine base that’s often lost on leather-centric EDPs.
Checkmate could have easily been an attention-seeker, but it’s more an attention-grabber. You’ll turn heads with a few spritzes of this exceptional perfume, even if the leather notes are predominantly better saved for those colder winter days. Call me infatuated, but I am not hesitating when I say this is easily one of my favourite leather scents of 2021 – a creamy leather dream designed perfectly for men and women who favour a more sensuous take on a tired trend.
Top Notes: Italian bergamot, Italian lemon, Indian cardamom.
Middle Notes: Leather, heliotrope, iris.
Base Notes: Suede, Virginia cedar, Cashmere wood, amberwood.
P Frapin & Cie Checkmate is now available in Australia at $229 for a 100ml bottle.